7 of the Best Summer Backpacking Trips in the Mountain West
As spring flowers are in full bloom and the weather begins to favor the approaching summer months, we all start planning our outdoor adventures for the upcoming season. And from high alpine traverses to desert wanderings, the Rocky Mountains and Mountain West are filled with options for an epic backpacking adventure. But with so many choices, it may be tricky to figure out where to go, so we put together a list of seven trails that are both beautiful and challenging. Check ‘em out.
1. Titcomb Basin Trail, Wyoming
Miles : 28 Days : 2-3 Difficulty : Moderate to Difficult
The case can be made that the Titcomb Basin, located in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, is one of the most spectacular hiking destinations in the entire Mountain West. This moderate-to-difficult, out-and-back hike snakes its way through beautiful alpine lakes—more notably Seneca and Island Lakes—while the horizon displays the iconic face of chiseled granite spires known as the Cirque of the Towers.
The trail can vary with hiker traffic, but it is no hindrance to the pristine scenery and, quite often, the solitude of the mountains. Definitely add the Wind River Range and Titcomb Basin Trail to your bucket list.
2. Grand Sawtooth Loop, Idaho
Miles : 69 Days : 6-10 Difficulty : Moderate
Smack dab in the middle of Idaho’s pristine Sawtooth Wilderness, the Grand Sawtooth Loop is a highlight for any of those looking to visit and explore the Gem State. The trail winds through high alpine lakes, rivers, and peaks reaching elevations above 10,000 feet and providing breathtaking views of jagged peaks that accurately depict the name of this spectacular zone.
While permits are needed for this area and the hiking season is typically short, a number of options can change the length and location depending on trail choice. Sawtooth Lake is worth the visit but it can be relatively crowded depending on the time of year, and a portion of the trail passes through an area that succumbed to wildfires in 2005. Time your visit for the blooming wildflowers from mid-July to August and create a vibrant view that is unparalleled.
3. Elk Park/Needleton Loop, Colorado
Miles : 45 Days : 6-8 Difficulty : Strenuous
Arriving via a coal-powered train on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, this excursion into the dramatic Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado gets off to a unique start. Straddling sections of the infamous Continental Divide Trail, the Elk Park/Needleton Loop is an awe-inspiring trip into nature that packs a punch with more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail even offers the opportunity to summit the 14,085-foot Mt. Eolus for sweeping views of neighboring 14er peaks. Meandering through verdant forest, emerald pools, and scenic basins will lead to even more expansive views of rocky ridgelines and glacially carved terrain.
4. Trans-Zion Trek, Utah
Miles : 46 Days : 2-4 Difficulty : Moderate to difficult
Painted in hues of pink, orange, and red, the steep canyons and big walls make this picturesque desert wilderness worthy of a multi-day backpacking trip. Starting at the northwestern end of Zion National Park at the more remote Lee Pass Trailhead in Kolob Canyon, spend a couple of days trekking through to the heart of Zion. When it’s all said and done, you’ll have linked up six trails before ending at the eastern entrance to the park.
Being that it is the desert, preparedness is important on this hike, and it is essential to ensure that you have enough water, sun protection, and navigation skills—and a backcountry permit—to make it comfortably through.
5. The Four Pass Loop, Colorado
Miles : 27 Days : 3-4 Difficulty : Moderate to Strenuous
As the trail name suggests, you’ll cross over four passes (Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin) on this loop, which also explains why it’s a rather challenging trail. But for those who are up to it, this classic hike makes its way through Colorado’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and provides an incredible way to see what the Rocky Mountains have to offer. With frigid streams, free-flowing waterfalls, open meadows, and stunning views of scenic rocky peaks, this trail ascends more than 12,000 calf-burning feet, making you earn the views in this tranquil wilderness.
Make sure to check-in about permits with the Forest Service as it is necessary to carry bear canisters into this area.
6. Teton Crest Trail, Wyoming
Miles : 40 Days : 3-6 Difficulty : Moderate to Difficult
If you find yourself in Jackson, Wyoming, or in Grand Teton National Park with a few days to spare, tick off this classic route that encompasses all that the park and surrounding area has to offer. Starting at the southern end of the national park, this trail works its way north through fields of wildflowers, lakes, and consistently gorgeous views of the jagged and defining Grand Teton peaks that present themselves in the Death Canyon Shelf portion of the hike.
The permitting process for this hike can be rather competitive and you will need to bring a bear canister, but the scenery and wildlife that you encounter on this trail is something you’ll never forget.
7. Boulder Pass Trail, Montana
Miles : 31 Days : 2-4 Difficulty : Moderate
This one-way shuttle hike that traverses the northern end of Montana’s Glacier National Park from west to east is a great way to see the pristine serenity that the park has to offer. Starting from Kintla Lake in the west, the trail stretches out over five lakes and two-mountain passes presenting some of the best mountain views in the park. This glacially carved landscape is best after the snow melts typically in late summer. It’s an excellent way to experience the park from cold lake plunges to perhaps a glimpse at the wild grizzly bears or mountain goats. It’s another one of those trips of a lifetime.
The trail is moderately trafficked and requires an overnight camping permit, but it also allows for the opportunity of variations if you are looking to extend the mileage and time spent in the wilderness.
Written by RootsRated for Gregory Mountain Products.
Featured image provided by William Woodward/Gregory Mountain Products